Jola Cloud Solutions' Blog

Lifting restrictions

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 21-Jul-2021 12:18:32

As COVID restrictions were lifted, how has this affected your business? How do your employees feel about returning to the office? What is your plan to build both customer and employee confidence living with the virus going forwards? How are you planning to manage the risk of a COVID outbreak in the office and the impact it may have on the efficient running of your business?

During lockdown, we got used to a different way of working. We were forced to isolate and adapt to a new way of working. In the channel, we already had the technology and a work-from-anywhere ethos, but as many companies prepare to return to the office, the Jola team are making flexible working part of their benefits package.

Like many channel companies, we found the transition to working remotely an easy one. We were still able to answer 90% of calls within 20 seconds and reply to tickets within one working day. Productivity went through the roof in our sales team, who were able to book back-to-back meetings online without the need to plan in travel time. Partners were happy to be trained online, and the company benefitted from a reduction in expenses.

As the restrictions ease, it makes sense for some teams to return to the office to train and coach new starters and for others to keep working from home to develop new products without interruption. For the Jola team, it makes sense to offer flexible working to ensure a safe and productive workforce to support our future growth. 

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Topics: Business

Recruitment online versus traditional face-to-face interviews

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 16-Jun-2021 12:49:41

With the current COVID restrictions still in place, many organisations have turned to online recruitment with varied results. What can employers do to ensure successful recruitment processes online?

Defining a strategy is a good place to start. What are your objectives? What is your strategy to achieve them, and how can this be measured? Preparation is key, and adapting your strategy to the new technology is essential.

Initial contact with candidates is often done over the phone, so this first step is easy to conduct over Teams. Second interviews are often more in-depth and so may be more challenging but not impossible if you adapt your tasks to work in a Team’s environment. Using case studies and role plays can help both behavioural and capability testing. Consistent and clear scoring is key to reduce the risk of unconscious bias influencing your decision.

Clear communication plan

Having a clearly defined candidate communication plan helps all parties gain a more consistent experience of the employer brand, encouraging more people to accept roles plus building a positive employer brand. Designing and shaping assessment messages not only offers reassurance and clarity but also mitigates business risks. 

Consistent measurement

Having the right measurements in place is key to ensure accurate assessment of candidates. It’s wise to trial and validate, just as in a traditional face-to-face assessment process.

Recording the process

The great benefit of online recruitment is the ability to easily record interviews to help compare candidates and involve additional parties for an independent view or second opinion.

Feedback

Sending feedback to candidates is an important part of the recruitment process. Successful candidates know exactly where they are in the process, and unsuccessful candidates can gain valuable feedback.

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Topics: Business

5 reasons to credit check suppliers

Posted by Andrew Dickinson on 17-Dec-2020 11:51:44

Most successful businesses subscribe to a credit rating agency for their prospective customers, but how many credit check suppliers?

You should, because:

  1. If they go bust, they could take you with them.

When a company calls in the administrator, their suppliers will act immediately to mitigate financial risk - often cutting off supply. This may not matter in some industries, but where you have been reselling their service it could be disastrous. In the telecoms and utilities business your customers may suddenly find themselves without service. Not only do you then risk losing them, but you may have breached your own contract and be open to litigation. Even if the administrator is able to sell the contracts to someone else (often another supplier), or where the supplier has step-in, service may still be interrupted, and you may find yourself in a much worse position subsequently.

  1. They may be poorly managed.

Excellent employees, with good judgement, do not choose to work for financially unstable employers. If the quality of your suppliers’ staff matters to you (e.g. where they are selling with you), avoid low credit scores. Also poorly managed companies are often difficult to deal with. If the relationship requires regular purchases and joint support of your customers, you may want to find another supplier.

  1. They are unlikely to be investing in new products and services.

In many markets, companies without money to invest in product development find their core products are quickly commoditised, and they have to compete on price. Gross margins come under pressure and they are forced to cut cost, often staff, in order to keep going.

  1. They may not be in a position to negotiate well.

Their suppliers are not going to be inclined to offer better rates or payment terms to them if they have a poor credit score. More likely they will apply a risk premium to the account, often insisting on payment in advance. This exacerbates the problem of thin margins.

  1. They will be less forgiving, supportive and accommodating.

When an organisation is in trouble and operating off minimum margins, bid support suffers. Whilst they would love to help you win large tenders, they simply can’t afford to take the business on at lower margins. Cash flow is likely to be an issue and they will be more inclined to be heavy-handed with late payers. Good suppliers will be understanding if you suddenly encounter a cash flow issue yourselves, and need some time. Financial unstable suppliers cannot afford to, because a couple of late payers could push them into liquidation.

Of course, there may be legitimate reasons for a low credit score. For example, late accounts, and extraordinary write-offs, which will be corrected in due course. Don’t be afraid to ask your supplier. They may not even be aware, and the low score may be due to an error in the interpretation of their filed accounts.

On the positive side, suppliers with a high credit score and good growth may benefit your business, especially where their success depends on yours. It demonstrates they are doing something right with their products, pricing, processes and support. If a supplier is constantly innovating, and negotiating with their suppliers, this means differentiation for you, and lower prices.

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Topics: Business

Recruiting Salespeople

Posted by Andrew Dickinson on 17-Dec-2020 11:45:43

Salespeople are like hotels in Monopoly. Buy as many as you can afford because the more you have, the more income you generate.

Of course, it’s never as straightforward as that. Under-performing salespeople are a drain on management time and your biggest mistakes won’t even pay for themselves, let alone make a positive contribution to gross margin.

This is why you need to be hiring all the time, especially if you are a growing business in a growing market. If you wait until the position comes up in the budget, or you lose someone, you are likely to miss the best people. Moreover, because you’re a little desperate, you are likely to compromise, take a risk, and make a bad hire.

Continuous recruitment requires a strategy. The objective is simple; whenever a person that fits your target profile starts to look around, they must know about, and consider, your company. Achieving this is a little more challenging.

  1. Maintain an advert constantly – web-site, LinkedIn, Facebook, trade publications. Whatever you use to communicate with your industry. Make people aware that you are growing and always hiring the best people.
  2. Write posts, blogs and articles regularly highlighting the successes of your salespeople and (if you’re in the channel) their resellers. You don’t have to use names, but you want to give prospective candidates a feel for what they will be doing, and a confidence that you will provide an environment in which they can succeed.
  3. Operate a comprehensive, structured and strict recruitment process. This should have several stages, testing different aspects of the behaviours you desire. Include role plays, behavioural interviews and presentations. Understand the minimum requirement for progression at each stage. Do not truncate the process and do NOT compromise.
  4. Make a list of companies where your ideal candidates currently work. Monitor this list for instability: new management, mergers, tough trading conditions. Try and develop contacts in some of these target companies who will let you know when people there may be looking around.
  5. Use your existing salespeople. If they are happy and making money, they will be pleased to tell old colleagues with their previous employer and friends working in your target companies. Encourage this and offer an incentive for them to put people forward.
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Topics: Business

Why are there so few female MDs in the channel?

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 25-Nov-2020 13:43:15

As a Director of a channel-only business, I am often asked why there are so few females in senior positions in our sector. It is a hot topic and something I have wondered about many times.

Some say the problem starts at school with fewer females being encouraged to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. According to recent UCAS data provided by HESA, 35% of STEM students in higher education are women and only 15% are studying computer sciences.

Others say recruitment is a problem, that not enough females are applying for advertised roles in our sector. 2019 Workforce statistics state that there are now over one million women in STEM in the UK, however the proportion of tech roles filled by women has flatlined at 16% since 2009.

So, what is going wrong? Why are we attracting fewer women than other sectors? Is it our recruitment policies? Or is it something else entirely?

Is there a myth surrounding our industry that you have to be a techie to be involved in it? Or are other sectors more appealing to women?

Maybe we should also look at promoting the opportunities available in our sector to students, apprentices, graduates and professionals in other sectors? Could we do more to mentor and promote those we attract? By working closely with CEOs/MDs/CFOs/CTOs/CMOs could we develop a more diverse management team?

The channel is made up of technical and sales professionals growing their own businesses. Many developed their careers at large telcos, others have only ever worked for themselves.

Looking at the marital status of individuals running organisations across all sectors, many are married with families. The majority have someone at home they can rely on to support them.

Maybe we should be looking at work/life balance and shared responsibilities at home to achieve equality at work. Maybe this shift would help avoid burnout and improve decision making, resulting in more profitable businesses and happier home lives across all sectors?

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Topics: Business

The importance of maintaining good company values

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 14-Oct-2020 11:36:15

Having clear company values helps to ensure that employees are working towards the same goals. Corporate values shape company culture and impact business strategy. They help to create a purpose, improve team cohesion, and create a sense of commitment in the workplace.

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Topics: Business

LESSONS FROM LOCKDOWN - RECRUITING

Posted by Andrew Dickinson on 01-Jul-2020 12:46:31

In the last 12 weeks we have recruited 6 new staff. None of us had ever hired someone without physically meeting them before.

FOR BUSINESSES

1. YOU CAN MAKE YOUR PROCESS MORE RIGOUROUS

Too many trips to your office can put candidates off. Conversely the more we see them, the more likely they are to reveal their true selves. You can use multiple Teams calls and they don’t all have to be an hour long to justify the travel time. Just make sure you prepare well and avoid repeating questions.

2. RECORD THE INTERVIEW

This enables you to take fewer notes, focus on the candidate and include others in the review process. Ever interviewed a candidate from an agency and within 10 minutes you know it’s not a fit? Help your agency filter better by watching videos of their CV interviews.

3. TAKE VERBAL PRE-OFFER REFERENCES

References are especially important if you can’t physically meet someone. Nowadays written references are practically useless. Ask candidates for phone numbers of recent bosses and their permission to call them. If they think highly of the person, they will take your call so as to not harm their chances. Describe the job and ask them why they think 'X' is suited to the role and what training will be required.

 

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Topics: Business

What has the channel learnt from lockdown?

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 17-Jun-2020 10:43:53

Lockdown has been a testing time for many channel businesses, but is there anything we can learn from it?

We can work from anywhere with a good internet connection

We were ready to work from home ‘en masse’ as our phone systems, software and files were in the cloud and we were already using collaborative software, such as Microsoft Teams. Moving to a work-from-home model did not present many challenges, as many of us were already spending part of our week working remotely. Employees were able to answer calls and tickets from their kitchen tables and make offices in box rooms very easily. We were able to order and deliver additional equipment, such as headsets and office chairs to the homes of our employees.

We embraced technology

Even though we had the technology, face-to-face meetings were always preferable, and meetings booked rather than webinars or video calls. This all changed during lock-down. It is now acceptable to video call colleagues at home and arrange video conference calls and webinars with customers. We are now much more accepting of background noise and interruptions than we were pre-lock down, as we have a better understanding of the challenges our employees and customers are facing.

We got creative

With many projects being put on hold and events cancelled, we needed to rethink our sales and marketing strategies. Many of us enhanced our online offering, making it easier for our customers to place orders online. We re-thought our marketing messages and our sales strategies and began building relationships online using LinkedIn, Twitter and IM. As we couldn’t interact face-to-face, we had more time to comment on blogs, like posts, answer LinkedIn messages and get around to those projects we had been putting off. We changed our recruitment policies and hired new people without ever meeting them face-to-face.

We listened

We listened to our staff and the challenges they were facing balancing work with their homelives and created support programmes. We arranged quizzes and online socials. We rolled out access to online workouts and confidential help lines and encouraged regular breaks and flexible working. We provided vouchers to access the latest films for free and discount vouchers for online shopping.

We tried to help

We have access to technology to allow people to communicate and were watching on the news how doctors were struggling to see patients, students were unable to study from home and family members were worrying about relatives in care homes. We contacted our local surgeries, schools and care homes and offered to help. As an industry we were able to quickly provide the technology to solve these problems.

We have more listening and learning to do to allow us to diversify and grow our businesses. The crisis will end, and we will look back on this period and the lessons learnt. Those that adapted quickly and prepared for future may turn out to be the most successful.

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Topics: Business

Preparing to work in the office

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 10-Jun-2020 15:56:47

For the last few weeks many of us have been working from home. What do we need to consider now to ensure a safe office environment for our employees in the near future?

If it aint broke….

If your team is working successfully from home, there may be no need to move back into the office for the moment. With many schoolchildren still at home, it would be difficult for many working parents to return to the office at this time. At some point in the future however, employees may need to return to the office, so it is worth considering these points.

Step 1 – Ensuring the health of your workforce

Communicate the latest government guidelines to ensure that anyone with symptoms or anyone that has been in contact with a person testing positive for COVID 19, self-isolates for 14 days. Do you wish to issue each employee with a PPE pack containing essential items such as hand sanitiser, single-use masks, single-use gloves, blue roll, laptop and screen cleaning spray and surface cleansing spray?

Step 2 – Maintaining social distancing guidelines

You may need to look at your office plan. Are your desks 2 meters apart? Do you have adequate dividers? Do you need floor or wall signage to remind employees of the safe distance? Signs on the doors to remind people not to hold them open for others.

Step 3 – Maintaining a COVID free environment

You may need to look at your cleaning schedule to ensure regular cleaning of communal areas and ensure individuals each clean their desks, screens, keyboard, mice, trackpads, kettles, fridges, light switches, door handles etc. You may need to provide sanitisation stations where cleaning sprays and blue paper are provided for single-use wipe downs.

Step 4 – Socially Distanced Meetings

Can you continue to hold meetings virtually? If not think about limiting the number of people in a meeting room to ensure the 2-meter rule and consider wearing masks.

Step 5 – Socially Distanced Breaks

Consider break out areas and toilets. You may need additional signage, cleaning stations and processes to ensure surfaced are wiped clean before and after usage and that employees remain 2 meters apart. I know it sounds a lot, but you may need to ban tea rounds and ensure each person only uses their own cup, spoon and milk. If your whole team is touching the kettle and the milk bottle, there is an increased risk. Same issue with the bins, unless they are pedal bins.

Step 6 – New Rules

You may consider introducing new policies such as staggered arrival times and break times to reduce the amount of people in communal areas, such as the car park and break out rooms at the same time. You will need to ensure no sharing of IT equipment or stationery, so that everyone is allocated their own. You may need to add a sign to the microwave to ensure it is wiped down before and after use and ensure people use their own plates, knives, forks and cutlery. Most importantly you must ensure that you have a good stock of handwash and cleaning equipment to ensure staff can work effectively in their own bubble in a clean and healthy environment.

Most companies will conduct a risk assessment and implement policies and communicate them to all staff before embarking on a return to work project.

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Topics: Business

Selling into Major Accounts

Posted by Cherie Howlett on 20-May-2020 13:12:14

Salespeople selling into Major Accounts seem to be in a league of their own. They have great business acumen and converse easily at CX level. They tailor their own sales strategies, custom-built for each Major Account. They acquire a deep understanding of the accounts they hope to close. They understand the market in which they operate, their competitors and key customers. They also build close relationships with key decision makers and influencers over time, often socially. They become a trusted resource and offer help and support in situations that don’t benefit them directly, such as sharing recommendations for useful resources. As relationships strengthen, they are able to influence key decision makers and start a commercial relationship that is mutually beneficial.

The Sales Strategy

Salespeople selling into major accounts are very good at extracting the right information, from the right people at the right time, during the sales cycle. They analyse the information gathered and decide what needs to be done and how to do it. This often involves other departments, such as development if products need to be tweaked to meet the needs of a major prospect.

The importance of networking

Major accounts salespeople often have a large network of industry peers, reflected in their social media connections and popularity at industry events. They understand relationships between contacts in key accounts, suppliers, competitors and customers and are not afraid to leverage resources. They understand the value of supporting each other and building advocates.  They ensure everyone in the buying cycle is aware of the good news story, highlighting problems to be solved. They are very pro-active, excellent at overcoming obstacles and passionate about negotiation. They push for a decision and are aware of potential competition. They can demonstrate measurable results and show why signing with them is a good investment.

In a nutshell

The best Major Account salespeople tailor their selling strategy to match each step in the client’s decision-making process. They understand the financial levers of an organisation. Whilst the product department and sales teams of a target prospect may be primarily concerned with product, the CEO and CFO work at a different level. To properly understand their drivers, the Major Accounts salesperson, must be able to read and understand profit and loss and balance sheet.

They understand the psychology of the buyer and know how to overcome objections and reassure doubts. They look to gain entry to Major Accounts through many windows of opportunity. They always follow up warm introductions and offer useful information. They know how to take on the competition and win. They handle negotiations effectively and offer ongoing support to ensure they win future opportunities and keep the competition out of their accounts.

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Topics: Business

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